This article was originally posted on Dr. Tony Soileau’s LinkedIn Profile. We liked it a lot, so we’re sharing it with his permission.
- What is “chest breathing”?
- What problems are caused by “chest breathing”?
- What is “belly breathing”?
- How can I learn to “belly breath”?
Just try this and see what happens. Sit up as straight as you can or even stand up. Take a deep breath. Place you right hand on your chest and your left hand on your belly. Now focus on your shoulders and chest. Take another deep breath. Your shoulders and chest should not have moved. Did they? If they did you’re “chest breathing” instead of “belly breathing”. “Chest breathing” is when you contract your shoulders and chest to inhale as you breathe. This very inefficient form of breathing that causes you to take short breaths. Only a small percentage of your lungs are filled with oxygen when you breathe this way. This means a small amount of oxygen is reaching your body. So you have to work your chest and shoulders harder and take more breaths each passing minute.
Now put your right hand back on your chest and your left hand back on your belly. This will work even better if you have room to lie down on your back. Now take a deep breath trying to completely fill your lungs. As you breath in focus on the hand on your belly rising. The hand on your chest should move very little and preferably not at all. Now exhale through your nose or mouth, whichever feels better. Focus on feeling the hand on your belly falling. Try this breathing method three or four times. Feel your belly hand rise as you breathe in and fall as you breathe out. Try exhaling as fully as you can so your bellybutton is pulled as close to your spine as possible. Think about a body builder when he poses with his stomach pulled in as far as it will go. Now you got it! You’re “belly breathing”! Welcome to healthy breathing.
“Belly breathing” will use your entire lung capacity. With “belly breathing” your stomach muscles and diaphragm pull down and fully expand your lungs. As your belly goes inward it forces stale air out of the bottom lobes of your lungs that were not being expressed with chest breathing. With greater amounts of air going in your breaths will be slower and longer. Much easier on your heart as much more oxygen comes in and more carbon dioxide is forced out. Blood flow is also increased to all your organs promoting a much healthier body. And much less stress!
Ok so how does belly breathing reduce stress levels and what does it have to do with clenching my teeth???
Bosses, work, kids, money, marriages, traffic, etc. all cause stress. Most people carry their stress in their shoulders and back. This means they keep their shoulders just slightly contracted all the time. It becomes normal to be tight and stiff in their upper body all day, and then all night. Eventually the stress tightened muscles of the back causes the chest to become tight. And then the ribs don’t move to allow the diaphragm to expand fully. Now you begin to lift your shoulders to pull air in. But it’s not enough air so you breathe faster and the lack of oxygen and increased muscle activity cause the shoulders, neck, and chest to be even tighter. And now you’re “chest breathing”.
“Chest breathing” causes another problem besides starving your body daily for the amount of oxygen it needs. Have you ever had a car pull out in front of you? If you did you noticed you tightened not only your upper body but also clenched your teeth. Next time you’re at the gym lifting heavy weights involving your shoulders notice your probably also clenching your teeth. The human body is designed to clench your teeth if you tighten your shoulders. It’s how we handle stress. So if your lifting your shoulders all day and night to “chest breath” you are probably also clenching your teeth as well.
The opposite is also true. If you’re clenching your teeth try relaxing your shoulders. It’s difficult to fully clench your teeth without involving your shoulders as well. And when you “belly breath” your shoulder and chest muscles will relax. The next time you have a headache, or you are stressed try to “belly breath”. Even if you just take ten really deep breaths using your belly your body will begin to relax. Remember its works even better laying on your back. Whatever problems life has given you will still be there. But your body won’t pay a price for them. And it’s better to deal with “stuff life gives us” when we are relaxed and breathing fully.